Under The Sea of Nonesense: An Interview with East India Youth

Nov 19 2014

East India Youth

When the 2014 Barclaycard Mercury Prize nominee shortlist was published, the British media made its confusion very clear. Most critics reacted favorably, but others derided the selection as “obscure”, as if frustrated that their attempts to use the internet had nonetheless left them ignorant of names like FKA Twigs and Young Fathers. But those with their ear to the ground were happy to see some of their heroes get some shine, especially ones that have been pounding the pavement for years.

Take, for instance, William Doyle, who spent three years at the front of Doyle & The Fourfathers. The band sported a jaunty, jangly sound and centered on witty lyrics. Naturally, it took their fans by surprise that, while announcing the quartet’s demise, Doyle simultaneously heralded his musical about-face under the new moniker East India Youth, named for the East India Docks in London. Now solo, Doyle is putting forth an electronic sound that combines atmospheric drones, techno pulses, neo-classical flourishes and an electro-pop songwriting. And while a handful of tracks contain bass guitars and even some of Doyle’s signature poetry, East India Youth is primarily an instrumental and introverted effort.

The first industry entity to recognize the potential of Doyle’s new project was John Doran, editor-in-chief of The Quietus, a leading British online zine. A listen to Doyle’s full-length demo Total Strife Forever was what inspired him to create The Quietus Phonographic Corporation specifically for releasing East India Youth’s first EP Hostel. The label has since gone on to put out material by Grumbling Fur and The Charlatans. Eventually, the more established Stolen Recordings swooped in to release Total Strife Forever as an LP this year, and accolades have been pouring in ever since. Aside from the Mercury Prize nod, the record received blanket praise from outlets including The Guardian, NME, Clash Music and DIY Magazine. Uncut perhaps put it best, saying the record “sounds like the great lost album that Brian Wilson, Eno and Bjork should have made together.”

Now that East India Youth is heading across the pond for a stop at Glasslands Gallery this Saturday (11/22), we had a few things we wanted to ask him.

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Was the switch in sonic direction a firm decision that was made at a certain point? Or had you been working with this set of skills as you were in Doyle & The Fourfathers?

I’d been making music on my computer – and using the computer to write songs with electronic based sounds – since I was 13. So the transition was one that I had been working on and felt comfortable with for many years in advance.

Of the two styles, indie rock and electronic music, which allow for more improvisation in performance?

I would say both allow for improvisation, but in different ways. Within the context of a band, the improvisation exists between the players and their separate instruments, whereas with electronic music – at least solo electronic music – the improvisation exists between the performer and the parameters of whatever is being used to generate sound; a synthesizer, a computer, hardware or software.

Many of your songs are instrumental, while some contain some very expertly delivered lyrics. Do you go into writing songs knowing whether you have a verbal message to get across, or is that decided further down the line?

Yes, I will usually know from very early on in the song whether or not I should structure the piece to work as a song or an instrumental. It’ll usually depend on how the initial genesis of the song came about – whether it was a beat, melody line, chord progression. Sometimes I’ll think of a lyric and a melody in one go, and thus a song is born.

How are you making your sounds? Do you have any favorite pieces of equipment or plug-ins? Do you ever do field recording?

I pretty much exclusively use software. I’m not really a gear geek and I was never able to afford synths (and still barely can!), so I just sort of used whatever was available to me on the computer. A lot of things on Total Strife Forever are in-built synths in Logic like the LS-1, and I’ve run that through something like Native Instruments Guitar Rig. I use the Arturia MiniV and the ARP2600 V on pretty much everything on the new music I’ve been making. They’re great plug-ins. Otherwise, there are these amazing plug-ins by a small company called Soundhack that feature a lot on this album. Lots of different types of delays.

When I look at the lyrics of “Heaven How Long”, I interpret them about the difficulty of finding contentment in both the best and worst of circumstances. Perhaps that relates back to the album title Total Strife Forever. Do you view this existential challenge as an essential fuel for your creativity? Could there ever be East India Youth without the Strife?

That’s a good reading of the lyric. Generally, although I reject the notion that artists must endure great difficulties to create good or interesting art, times of pressure and adversity can definitely contribute fertile periods of creativity. I guess I found that out when making TSF. My new album was made in a time of more excitement and vibrancy than TSF, and I suppose that is reflected. Though listening to it right now (I’m approving the final masters for it), it still sounds like I had a pretty awful time in the last two years! Maybe I’m always destined to make inward looking, slightly melancholic music.

Could you tell about why you chose to soundtrack the film 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea 98 years after its release? Are you, now a solo musician, Captain Nemo, roaming the abyss in search of knowledge and revenge? Would the piece’s melodic references to TSF hint at the film’s influence on your work/life?

Haha. As much as I wish that were true – I was actually approached to make an original soundtrack to that film by someone else. I’d never seen it before working on it. It’s a great film. It’s a shame, though, the edit they gave me to work with really messed around with the order of the film and basically made it nonsensical. So my version should probably be titled 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea of Nonsense. There were things that I put into the soundtrack that were lifted from TSF, mainly as I was working on the final mix for the album when I got asked to do the soundtrack, so the two projects bled into one.

Anything you’d like us to know about the album you’ve got coming out next year?

I won’t say too much at this stage, as I’m going to have to talk about it every day from early next year for at least the following 12 months. However, there is more of a focus on vocals this time, as opposed to the heavily instrumental bent of TSF. I’m very excited about it.

Thank you, William! East India Youth performs at Glasslands this Saturday, November 22nd, with Una Lux, Von Sell, and DJ Evan Ønly. Tickets here.

Ultimate Support: An Interview with Blue Hawaii

Oct 23 2014

words by @alancholesterol


There’s always the old cliché that art mixed with romance is a disaster in wait. The mythos of modern pop music is ensconced in the narrative of love disrupting creativity, whether it’s the legendary entanglements of Fleetwood Mac, the recent demise of Sonic Youth, or decades of misogynistic Yoko-blaming. For the post-couple that makes up Montreal’s Blue Hawaii, personal tension has been so efficiently refined into inspiration that old tropes need not apply. Their romantic ins and outs are rendered in their music, but not in a cheap, soap opera way. Instead, they satisfy the listener’s voyeurism through thoughtful poetry and musical compositions that tap into universal language of infatuation.

The pair met at Lab Synthèse in Montreal, birthplace and spiritual genesis of the Arbutus Records camp that boasts breakouts like Grimes, Majical Cloudz, and Doldrums. Raphaelle Standell-Preston was already fronting BRAIDS, now an internationally beloved trio, and Alexander “Agor” Cowan was running the venue alongside his brother Sebastian, working the door that particular night. It was not until they journeyed to Central America together that they coalesced into a musical unit and recorded Blooming Summer, a record built out of sun-soaked melodies.

In 2012, they knowingly began making Untogether from a different place. No longer a couple in the technical sense of the word, they recorded much of the record while Cowan was living in Europe. Even when they were both in Canada, they elected for recording in different rooms at different times. The resulting record is noticeably different from its blissed-out predecessor. Its spacier and starker, with heavier beats and bleaker lyrics. Yet its beauty is undeniable, often provoking words from critics like “fluid” and sensuous.”

Their chemistry is especially evident during their dynamic live shows, where they’re able to tailor the set to tastes of their audience. Glasslands will be treated to one of these performances tomorrow, October 24th, for CMJ, and we were able to snag Cowan for a few questions.

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For your live shows, you guys embrace improvisation and do a lot on the fly, with Alex manipulating samples and synths as Raphaelle layers vocals. I imagine it can be challenging to sync up with each other during this process. Do you guys have a non-verbal system for giving each other cues?

We used to have a funny system of tapping and poking each other to drop in different samples or loops… now it’s evolved into a super open kind of platform where we try out lots of new ideas and support each other the best we can. On our last Asian tour, we ended up hitting “record” in Ableton whenever we started this jam-out phase of the set, and reviewing it. Now we’ve discovered all kinds of vocal lines and synth ideas we can turn into new songs. Writing on the fly…

Raphaelle also fronts the beloved Braids. I wanted to ask how she differentiates or separates ideas for the two different projects, lyrically and musically.

With much difficulty I think. It’s hard to prevent the two projects from crossing over thematically. Stylistically, maybe Blue Hawaii is from the more upbeat/dancey kind of camp, which informs the kind of lines and lyrics she writes for it.

Electronic music fans can be persnickety about specific sub-genres, and you have been very specific in expressing your love for techno. I’d like to know how your fascination with the genre developed, how it led to the pilgrimage to Europe (during the recording of Untogether), and if it inspired your recent move to London.

Yeah techno is great… though really I like all genres and sub-genres of music, and they don’t have much to do with how often I seem to move around. I think that’s related to something else, and lately I’ve really been wanting to find a home. In terms of music I’ve been really into early 80s disco, UK garage and ratchet style Hip-Hop.

I’m very curious about the process of writing lyrics collaboratively. From what I gather, it starts with Raphaelle improvising vocals, sending the best of what she records to you, who cuts it into patterns that fit into the beat, which are then reinterpreted by Raphaelle. Does this end up significantly altering the intent of the song? I find myself enthralled and perplexed by passages like “Sit through this wavering view” in “Reaction II.”

I think most of Untogether is written about the two of us living together and breaking up at the same time, writing music apart. And I’m pretty sure that lyric references the odd sort of patience one has to have in that kind of scenario. I don’t write the words… only in this one song we’ve done “Floral”. So in that sense, most of Untogether is from Raphaelle’s perspective.

Blue Hawaii is a project that began while you two were romantically involved. Does the fact that you remain major presences in each other’s lives ever cause friction with new romantic prospects?

Nice question. Actually, no. We’re like better than best friends… ultimate support for each other without having to be in a necessarily romantic relationship. It’s pretty nice.

You guys are part of Montreal’s Arbutus Records family, alongside characters like Grimes, Doldrums and Majical Cloudz, whose and reputation for smart, stellar pop music is growing rapidly with no end in sight. Other than the origin space, Lab Synthèse, what Montreal establishments are important to this community?

Hmm… Probably all those party spots that don’t exist anymore like Silver Door and Torn Curtain etc… That and just all the cheap grocery stores and bakeries and things. Those are fun.

THANKS AGOR! Blue Hawaii plays live tomorrow (10/24) at Glasslands with Ballet School and Lydia Ainsworth. Get tickets here.

Fire & Brimstone: An Interview with Armand Hammer

Oct 14 2014

words by @alancholesterolARMANDHAMMER_2

The demise of underground hip-hop is a well-worn topic, but more interesting is the story of the artists that survived it. Armand Hammer is made up of two MCs that have each built a catalog in the dark corners of rap, earning loyal followings while remaining in the shadows. The Philly-born Elucid’s solo efforts can be traced to the Smash & Grab mixtape from 2007, though at that point he had been lending his voice to tracks for years, at least as far back as a DJ Kno (Cunninlynguists) track in 1999. Billy Woods, who has resided in DC, NYC, Africa and the West Indies, ascended as an associate of Cannibal Ox, eventually setting up the Backwoodz Studioz imprint. One of his verses from the 2005 SoundClash Volume 1 compilation calls out from memory:

“Answers? / You seen what they did to the Panthers. / And you see the pigses in Panzers. / Tiananmen Square ain’t the place for gangsters.”

2014 finds both rappers enjoying a renaissance in parallel. Woods, who never shows his face on camera, put out History Will Absolve me in 2012, his first solo LP in eight years, and a year later collaborated with the producer Blockhead to create Dour Candy. Both records received high volumes of crossover recognition from the indie-pop press. Elucid turned heads with the 2012 solo effort Bird Eat Snake / The Love Offering, an investigation of Brooklyn’s gentrification. This year he followed up with producer A.M. Breaks in tow to form the duo Cult Favorite, dropping an LP that had Tiny Mixtapes jocking, “Sometimes it takes a demanding listen like For Madmen Only to expose your favorite flavors of the month for the non-threatening panderers they truly are.”

Thus, Armand Hammer is a righteous pairing, whose fearless rhyming is perfectly complimented by their diverse taste in strange production (often featuring Elucid in the role of beatmaker). Their dense multi-syllabic rhyme schemes are unrelentingly incisive in their portrayal of social hierarchies, especially when it comes to the police, and their use of cultural references can be dizzying. For optimal listening, make sure you have a dictionary, an almanac, a newspaper, The Red Book and maybe a few Wikipedia tabs handy. Their first LP, the 17-track Race Music, came out at the end of 2013, and this summer they dropped the 9-track Furtive Movements. These two records are as delightful to the ear as they are challenging to the mind, a combination that has won over The Needle Drop, We Listen For You, 2DopeBoyz, Impose Magazine, and Passion of the Weiss. We had the rare privilege of putting a question to these virtuoso lyricists…

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We’re in the midst of the Ferguson uprising, which has just been inflamed by another shooting of a likely unarmed black teenager. Some in hip-hop, like Killer Mike, have posited that a solution to police brutality lies in having police forces made up of people from the respective communities they patrol. What do you think can quell such a chronic issue?

Elucid: Stopping short of proclaiming that the entire framework must be destroyed, having police officers who resemble the communities they police may be a positive step in the right direction. In the interest of officer accountability, I am curious to see how the implementation and effectiveness of police cruiser dash and officer body cameras will play out.

Billy Woods: There are certainly small things that can be done to mitigate conflicts between poor, black communities and law enforcement. Obviously, a more powerful civilian complaint review board, better hiring/firing practices, more cameras, etc. But ultimately, even without the ever pervasive element of race and the long troubled history of institutional racism in the police department, there is an adversarial aspect to policing poor communities that cannot be fully done away with in a society like ours. The combination of vast inequality and a materialistic, hyper-capitalist culture means that the poor are more likely to commit certain crimes, making their communities targets of law-enforcement, which given their relative helplessness is bound to lead to abuse and mutual distrust.

This is not a suggestion that we would be better off doing nothing, just an acknowledgement of what it’s limits are without substantive changes to American society.

I had to look up whom the namesake of your band was (an actual person that the baking soda was named after), and his story including various entanglements with politicians on both sides of aisle. Better just to ask you guys directly: Why the name Armand Hammer, and how does it frame your work?

E: I had no idea who the real armand hammer was until we decided on the name. Initially i wanted our group name to sound like it could be a single real person’s name and likeness. The Armand Hammer name itself can bring to mind strength, authority, socialism and crack cocaine.

BW: Well, you say it “Arm & Hammer,” and I liked that name, the fact it’s consists of two parts working together is another aspect of it.

“B.E.T.” is an indictment of the white corporate hand’s exploitation off hip-hop. In this day and age, with album sales pulling in all-time low revenues and corporate sponsorship playing an ever-increasing role in the industry, is there a line that you’d never cross in terms of “selling out”? Have you been put in a position where you’ve had to turn down a proposition to preserve your integrity?

BW: This is actually a couple of questions/statements so I will try and address them all. I am not 100% sure that that description encompasses B.E.T but I welcome your thoughts, obviously as an artist I am always interested in how people interpret what I do. Your interpretation is, in many ways, just as valid as my own. As to “selling out,” I am not sure what you mean specifically, it would depend on the specifics. Would I perform at a showcase sponsored by some magazine or corporation I had a negative opinion of? Sure, I already have. Would I do a record for a label that I think puts out wack artists? Depends on if I get to do what I want to do or not. Would I start doing some shit I didn’t believe in just to make a buck? Not in the field of rap music, no.

E: The opportunity to have my music advertising/marketing tool has never presented itself to me. I would entertain the possibility on a case by case basis though.

Wanted to ask the ol’ influence question, in hopes that I could pinpoint each member’s. Would it be wrong to say that Mobb Deep’s ominous delivery and grandiose metaphors/similes have informed Elucid’s style? Ghostface’s descriptiveness and use of references for Billy?

E: Mobb Deep was big for me as a kid. But i was raised in a Black Pentecostal, fire and brimstone church obsessed with death. You want to talk about ominousness and grandiose metaphors? I learned it from reading old testament stories. I’m a fan of the mid-late 90’s Queensbridge sound in general though. Nas, Capone-N-Noreaga, and especially Tragedy Khadafi.

W: Ghost was a big influence on me, for sure, although far from the only one. It was really through another, more personal influence that I even became a Ghostface fan and that was Vordul Mega of Cannibal Ox, a great friend who is the reason I ever started taking rap seriously. With Ghost, I think I appreciated his use of language and ability to be creative while remaining emotionally engaged with his work. His work on Ironman is less heralded than the over-the-top pinnacle of his style that you see on Supreme Clientele but that was the record Vordul put me onto that really showed me Ghost’s genius. The ability to attack ideas from new angles with new language and a willingness to avoid the overt.

Thanks so much, Billy and Elucid! Armand Hammer is performing… *looks at phone* … TONIGHT! With Open Mike Eagle, Serengeti, Junk Science and a guest appearance by Hannibal Buress!

I Still Sleep In The Trash: An Interview With Open Mike Eagle

Oct 8 2014

words by @alancholesterol


There’s a thread running nearly every bio about Open Mike Eagle. Check his Facebook, his press releases, his label site, his interviews and album interludes, and you’ll uncover the story of a kid who grew up watching MTV and Nick At Nite, listened to alt-rock on Q101 and rap on WHPK, eventually moving on to get psychology degree at Southern Illinois inspired by One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. While this narrative of voracious media consumption misses the story of a kid from South Side, Chicago’s “quote-un-quote ghetto” who beat the odds despite a split family, it is vital in understanding how he has become one of the most talented, astute and hilarious musicians working today.

As a purveyor of what he calls “Art Rap”, which is pretty self-explanatory, Eagle fits in well as a member of the Hellfyre Club imprint alongside the likes of Busdriver, Nocando, and his protégé Milo. The label is an outcropping of Project Blowed, a collaborative workshop with its origins at Los Angeles’ Good Life Café, the scene that attracted Eagle as a rap upstart upon his relocation from Chicago. Like his fellow Blowedians, his lyrics are self-deprecating, at times abstract and laced with social and political commentary. What sets him apart, though, is his effortlessly musical delivery and a keen focus on humor, both of which are in full force on the new LP Dark Comedy.

The title of the record is characteristically succinct. It contains confrontational analysis of society rubbing up against comedic jaunts. The listener will often encounter gems like,

“Fuck Redding, California, ‘cause shit’s pretty racial there/ I’m envious of anyone with full-grown facial hair/ Yeah. I’m always in between haircuts/ But FDR said it ain’t shit to be scared of/ He must have never smoked herb / Been beaten by his dad or heard bad spoken word.”

There’s also the LOL-inducing “Doug Stamper (Advice Raps)” that features comedian Hannibal Buress, one of his stand-up comedy allies alongside Marc Maron, Matt Besser and Paul F. Tompkins. His appeal to comedians should be obvious to any who reads the way he answered our questions…

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How has life changed since you’ve been named LA Weekly’s Best Rapper of 2014? Are you embracing for the inevitable Kendrick Lamar call-out?

Well, I’ve found myself looking around for way more copies of the LA Weekly than I was last week. Also, a crazy guy tried to battle me at Low End Theory last Wednesday. I screamed in his face like a maniac. It was great. Shit, that might have been Kendrick. Is Kendrick an Arab?

You often employ a sing-song delivery to them, which you’ve taken even further on your newest album Dark Comedy, to the point where most lines are delivered melodically. Was this a conscious decision or did it happen naturally? Any Bone Thug inspiration there?

All my Bone Thugs inspiration came from Tasha singing her name at the end of “Thuggish Ruggish Bone” and that Mo Thugs Family song called “Ghetto Cowboy”. Those are the two best things in any genre. I blame all my singing on D’angelo, Bob Mould, Slimkid3, D.V. Alias Khrist, Myka 9, and the lead singer of the Crash Test Dummies

Hannibal Buress, who is certifiably one of the biggest names in stand-up comedy today, appeared on your 2010 LP to interrogate you on the meaning of “Art Rap.” How did your connection with him come about, and what convinced you that he was lyrically capable enough to spit a verse on your record?

We have this years-long relationship where we happen upon each other sleeping in trash cans outside our current living quarters. I found him last so I think he feels indebted. I still sleep in the trash recreationally. Also we went to college together. I’ve pooped in his apartment a bunch.

You play keyboards and co-produce a lot of your music. What is your background in instrumental music and production? Do you think we’ll ever hear Open Mike Eagle doing an instrumental album, producing for other rappers, or joining a band?

I’ve done some beats for other rappers. Most of my beats stink right now though. So I’m not motivated to put a ton of time into it. My podcast is where I’m putting most of my production attention these days. It’s fun, you should listen to it. It’s called Secret Skin.

In your song “Qualifiers” you say, “Fuck you if you’re a white man that assumes I speak for black folks/ Fuck you if you’re a white man who thinks I can’t speak for black folk.” I read that as referring to white rap fans dealing negatively with frank discussions of race in “abstract” music. Other Hellfyre Club members address this issue as well. What is your experience in dealing with entitled Caucasian rap fans who struggle with feelings of guilt or exclusion?

That whole couplet was designed to do this thing where people might start to separate individual rappers from their relationship to race at large. It was like a tiny mindfuck grenade of dissociative logic but in a way it creates more awkwardness sometimes than it diffuses. But maybe that’s just what’s going on inside my body. I’m sorry, what was the question?

Your young son is becoming familiar with rap music. Have you come up with a strategy for discussing some of the more “adult” themes in your music when he’s old enough to start asking about them? Or disclaimers for the less constructive rap that’s in favor with the radio?

Yeah, I’ve told him that at least one popular rapper is a terrible person. He was already disinterested but I felt like I needed to drive the point home in an immature way. As far as my stuff, there’s not too much I say that I feel like I’d have to explain. He’s a smart kid though. He’ll probably end up explaining to me what I meant half the time.

Thanks, Mike! Open Mike Eagle co-headlines a show with Serengeti at Glasslands on October 14, 2014 with Armand Hammer, and Junk Science. Getcha tickets here

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Synesthetic Inspiration: An Interview with Teleman

Sep 4 2014

words by @alancholesterol


Those that deny evolution would be hard pressed to explain Teleman. The Reading, UK quartet sprung forth from the demise of Pete & The Pirates, a group championed by Zane Lowe and his fellow BBC jockeys, known for “punk blasts of power” and “kraut-rock frugouts” (as Rough Trade brilliantly put it). After a glorious eight-year run ending in 2012, the band hung its hat, allowing vocalist and guitarist Thomas Sanders, his brother Jonny Sanders the drummer, and Pete Cattermoul to split off together in search of new musical frontiers.

The result was a brand new beast altogether. In Teleman, Jonny moved over to synth duties, which made room for the intuitively clever trap work of Hiro Amamiya. The focus moved from loud, persistent riffs to subtle arrangements that employ brilliant use of space. Franz Ferdinand’s Alex Kapranos has publicly praised their song “Steam Train Girl”, saying, “the notes just seem to hang in the space. There seems to be absolutely no excess, nothing bombastic in the playing. It’s all quite delicate. But the emotion behind it is all the powerful as a result.” That track and many other gems are on their debut LP Breakfast, released by Moshi Moshi. We had a quick word with frontman Thomas to discuss his creative process and we can expect from their September 26th show at Glasslands.

The visual theme you guys often work with involve these colored circles, used very creatively in all your music videos. How did you arrive at this mosaic? Four colors for four band members? The “back to where we started” lyric in Cristina? 

This originated from when Jonny and I were pondering over an idea for our first video for the song “Cristina”. We wanted something that was going to be ridiculously simple, almost and antithesis of a normal music video. The first lingering chord of the song seemed to want to be represented by a basic form and colour; you could say it was a synesthetic inspiration. The video developed in this way, and these humble coloured dots were quite pleasing to us so we adopted them as a motif which we’ve used in our artwork and videos.

You have often said that you’d like to leave your lyrics up to interpretation, but there are so many provocative fragments. Can you provide us any clues as to which themes to listen for? I was especially curious about the “rolling heart gathering moss” passage.

There is a saying that “a rolling stone gather’s no moss.” It’s a great phrase; you have to keep moving and learning or you’re going to stagnate and rust. I liked this metaphor applied to the heart – to be open to new emotional experiences in life, and to make the heart beat fast sometimes!

Three of you were members of Pete & The Pirates which had more of a guitar-based, punk rock edge. Was the incorporation of synths difficult? Or were you guys experienced with these techniques before forming Teleman?

Jonny played the drums in Pete and the Pirates, but he was always a secret synth player. Pete is also a very talented keyboardist, so it was only natural that we’d want to move over some way into that territory. We still love the guitar, and it features quite heavily on our record.

You guys like to get right into business when you play, without dealing in gimmicks or banter. How is the live Teleman experience different from the record?

That’s right. I’d rather not say anything at all but I don’t want to come across as rude or arrogant. It’s just that I find playing live quite daunting and I just really want to focus on the music and not on being an entertainer. I sometimes wonder about my career choice, as I don’t really like people looking at me! Hopefully people have come to listen to us playing the songs as best we can, and not to see a grand spectacle. The songs have a different character when we play them live. I think they are looser and we like to play around with structures and instrumentation here and there so that we aren’t just regurgitating the record. It’s an ever changing process, so our live shows are always being honed and tweaked.

Thank you, Thomas! Cop tickets to Teleman’s 9/26 show with LOLO and Laura & Greg here.

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Interview: Schmear

Jul 18 2014

word by Rebecca Zosia Stern (@rebeccazstern)

Don’t be misguided by their comical name. Schmear is New York trio Chris, Turner, and Tom, who describe their sound as “caressing harmony with seismic battery,” are subtly bold musicians. ‘ eponymous debut LP is filled with a sweet rock reminiscent of Marc Bolan vocals and late 60’s guitar riffs, yet travels towards unfamiliar and haunting melodies that enthrall. PopGun had the pleasure of conducting Schmear’s very first interview after their performance on June 23rd.

Is Schmear your first LP?

Yes, it is our first almost full-length album. We are currently recording a new album right now. It should be finished mid-August.

Each track seems to flow nicely into each other, like chapters with motifs. “54321” is almost like an overture guiding the listener. How did you begin writing the album?

Turner: Well “54321” was probably the first song Chris and I wrote together. It came from a little riff I came up with before we called ourselves anything and developed as we grew into our elements. Its potential was only realized when Tom Stephens got involved in the band; he studied Jazz Percussion at Oberlin and his abilities really set us free. It sounds crazy but this was the first song we showed him. It was kind of a test, if he could stick that song then we knew he was the guy. He totally blew us away and hasn’t really changed since.

Chris: We didn’t really write it as an album, it’s more just a collection of songs we wrote. There were others but we decided to stick the ones that made sense together.

Do all of you contribute to lyrics?

Chris: We have a “you wrote it, you sing it” kind of deal. Turner and I write all the songs.

Turner: Usually our process is oriented in way that we bring songs that we write to the group and flush them out through repetition. They settle themselves kind of like that muck on the bottom of a pond.

Your sound is a little haunting filled with minor chords and sliding harmonies. Have you always been into creating spooky music?

Turner: I have always been drawn towards the underside of beauty in music. It’s not always the brilliant and sanguine that appeals, sometimes its contrast and relation to the dark are what makes a piece so compelling.

Chris: I think yes. I’ve always liked music that sounds isolated. Outsider stuff like blues or bedroom recordings are really exciting. We tried to get some of that vibe by not letting ourselves get to wrapped up in having everything done perfectly, instead we just tried to capture emotional performances.

I am curious about your song titles. They seem super patriotic (“Pride”, “Stars”, “Waves”) .

Chris: “Pride” is about the detriment pride can do to one’s self. The other two are just someone looking around and trying to figure things out. I don’t think patriotism could help with any of that.

Turner: That’s definitely a first for us, I don’t think you could find a less Patriotic band, I mean America the continent is a beautiful place, with some amazing beautiful people, music and art. As for the Patria there’s no love lost there, but I’m speaking for myself here.

Do you speak French? I ask this because of your song titled “L’appel du Vide” (defined as the tiny voice that is telling you to jerk the steering wheel).

Turner: I speak some French, but with disuse it has started to wither. The call of the void, I’ve felt profoundly that feeling throughout my life and the song relates to the fact that it’s not uncommon to find unsettling aspects of ones’ personality, especially that of self-destruction.

Chris: I don’t speak French anymore. I was executed via guillotine, Reign of Terror-era France in my previous life.

How much do you guys like bagels? (Favorite cream cheese?)

Turner: Chris and I are both from NYC and bagel culture here is pretty significant, there was a time, a long time that I think I must have had a bagel with schmear for lunch almost every day, not the healthiest choice looking back from this enlightened organix era but I was a picky eater and those did it for me. They still do! I gotta make a shout out to Ess-a-Bagel on 21st. They never failed me during lunch recess.
Chris: Right now I’m really into the Poppyseed Flagels from Peter Pan in Greenpoint. I like to get bacon, egg and cheese, but only sometimes. I always go for plain cream cheese. I like it with fish, tomato or whatever. Usually I have my schmear on toast with scrambled eggs.

Thank you, Schmear! We’ve put on two incredible performances by these guys and look forward to jamming with them in the future.

Interview: Oneida

Jul 16 2014

words by Ivan Krasnov (@ivankrislov)

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Oneida’s unrelenting propulsion through the likes of krautrock, psychedelia, noise and all-around experimentation has lasted for more than 15 years. This becomes especially admirable when one keeps in mind that such sonic efforts have all been within the context of a ‘rock band’. Yet Oneida’s explorations are uniquely their own, with the aforementioned genres and styles simply being markers of their eclectic influences and subsequent compositions.  

With 12 albums, a slew of live improvisational All Tomorrow’s Parties sets and a recently completed album-trilogy under their belt, the band are embarking on a series of dates that sees them play their first shows outside of NY in years. And to add to their already prolific output, Oneida have revealed on their website numerous new projects including a brand new full-length, 4 limited edition full-length cassettes entitled The Brah Tapes and much, much more.

We caught up with Shahin and Bobby on topics such as the medium of cassette tapes, their ‘drive’ and Can ahead of their Glasslands show on 7/17.

In June 2013, you performed at the Deerhunter-curated All Tomorrow’s Parties in Camber Sands, England with Rhys Chatham. Shahiin – you also joined Kid Millions (John) and Zach Lehrhoff for an Ex-Models performance at the very same ATP (which blew me away). Though you have all played at ATPs in the past, what was this specific experience like? What was it like to be a part of such an eclectic yet excellent and esteemed line-up? People were raving about the Ex-Models show all weekend…

Shahin: It was an honor. I mean you couldn’t ask for a more talented cast of friends, peers, and forbears to be stuck at British Chuck E Cheese with. I’m glad Bradford woke the Models dragon and we got to burn the place down and friends who’d never seen that got to see it. Mostly I remember thinking it was such a relief to be at an ATP and not have to be pulling off an 8 hour recorded improv with like a dozen guests for once.

In 2011 you ended your Thank Your Parents trilogy with Absolute II, yet you followed up almost immediately with 2012’s A List of the Burning Mountains. After more than 15 very diverse years of being a band, how do you remain so prolific? What drives you all to constantly re-enter new jams and soundscapes?


Bobby: the question of what drives us is probably unanswerable in a not-lying context. That drive just is, and always has been, and I don’t know where it comes from – but it’s pretty well shared among us all. And given that we are driven to keep going, it seems to make sense that we keep sticking our noses into new places. I mean, if we made a ton of money doing this we’d probably do the same thing over and over again till we stopped getting paid. But you know.

On this upcoming tour that kicks off at Glasslands you will have with you limited edition cassettes of The Brah Tapes, featuring original live and studio material from the past 5 years. Tapes are becoming more and more common today not only on bands’ merch tables but also as a revived platform for new music. How do you feel about the resurgence of tape labels and enthusiasts? What have your relationships been with the medium?

Bobby: My own personal relationship with cassettes is the world of mixtapes. I grew up with taping shit off the radio (thank you WLIR!) and taping my older brother’s LPs – don’t know if you remember, but that’s how we killed music back in the eighties. I’m psyched about tape labels and tape listeners now just because it’s another medium, another way to experience/immerse/explore. And hell yeah, bring back the rewind millstone! Any time you get some obstacles in your life that force you to navigate them in your pursuit of what you want, it keeps you sharp, you know? It’s like when your bandmates retune your guitar between soundcheck and stage time – just be on your fuckin toes, you know?

Your website indicates that you have been recording your thirteenth (!) album this year. What has that process been like? And what does the near future hold in store for Oneida?

Bobby: We’re actually recording more than that right now – we’ve just finished a full album in collaboration with composer Rhys Chatham, AND we’re well along on the next standalone Oneida album. Plus The Brah Tapes… I think we’re doing all right. Near future: more music, more money, more problems.

And finally, the eternal question: Ege Bamyasi or Tago Mago?

Oneida: Love the one you’re with.

Thanks, Bobby and Shahin! Get tickets for their show TOMORROW (7/17) with Disrhythmia and Beech Creeps here.


Interview: King Khan & The Shrines

Jun 5 2014

words by @alancholesterol

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When Arish Ahmad Khan is performing rock and roll music, it might not be obvious to all, but there is healing going on. On one hand, there’s the driving psychedelic soul music providing salvation for a batshit audience. But you’ve also got the charismatic frontman himself, cleansing his own soul of personal turmoil.

Indeed, just four years ago, the prospect of new King Khan & The Shrines music was in jeopardy, as Khan experienced a “collection of nervous breakdowns” while on an international run with partner Mark “BBQ” Sultan (together they are the King Khan & BBQ Show). Khan’s antics at the Vivid LIVE festival at Sydney Opera House proved too much for the venue, who expelled him, as well as Sultan, which caused the pair to temporarily disband. Compounded with the recent deaths of three close friends, including Jay Reatard, it was all enough anxiety to land Khan in a female-run monastery in Korea, penning letters about giving up music forever.

But Khan’s family came to the rescue and intervened. Soon, the rejuvenated maestro went back to recording, releasing The King Khan Experience compilation before putting together another masterpiece with his nine-piece garage punk powerhouse, The Shrines. Idle No More presents the band in top form, with belting horns, punchy guitars, introspective lyrics, maybe a string section or two. We caught up with Khan recently in preparation for their show tomorrow night at LPR.

The title Idle No More comes from a First Nations movement in Canada. What’s your relationship with the group, and what about it would inspired the title?

When I was a teenager my father would sometimes kick me out of the house and I would stay with one of my Mohawk buddies on the Kahnawake Indian reservation. Two of my best friends were Mohawk Indians and I owe a lot of my fierce punk training to the two of them. I was following what was happening with the Idle No More movement and it made me very happy to see that indigenous people were rising above and fighting the powers that be. I asked them permission to use the name in hopes to spread the word and they were very happy I did it.

I might be wrong, but as far as I understand it, all nine current members of your band have been with you for thirteen years. How on earth do you keep such a huge crew together for so long with all that personality flying around? Any tips?

Well I keep a lock of their hair in a Gris Gris bag and once in a while I put it over a candle and make them sweat profusely. I have promised them eternal happiness if they choose to walk the bridge to the cosmic gate with me. We are a happy freak family.

You’ve talked about how this album marks a return to music after a breakdown or “overload” brought on by personal traumas. I’m curious to how you related to music in this time, if you had any specific appetites or used any genre/artist to cope. What eventually brought you back to the classic Shrines sound?

Well I had to shut myself off completely from music and wait till it naturally came back to me. I had very troubling vulnerable times when I thought I would never come back or be the same. I think this is a very common hurdle when you are trying to get help; I survived and am a testament that your life can be saved if you devote some time to getting help. After a few years of living in oblivion the song “Darkness” came creeping in and I knew I had arrived and come back to life.

You’ve long been collaging images and references to multiple religions and spiritualities in your lyrics – everything from Tarot to Egyptian religion to Voodoo. Given that your world can get pretty rambunctious, do you have certain rules or policies with how to approach these symbols?

I am a spiritual person and I am always on an eternal quest finding out about mysticism all over the world. In the Tarot de Marseilles I found a lot of enlightenment and magic, mostly from the teachings of Alejandro Jodorowsky and with my own mastering of the cards. I approach all these things with a lot of humor as well, I think ultimately laughter is the best medicine.

If you had to recommend one spiritual experience – a visit to a site, a ritual, a talisman etc – for our readers, what would that be?

I would definitely suggest getting a deck of the Tarot de Marseilles and reading Jodorowsky’s book The Way of Tarot. There are some passages in there that are truly divine….

Thank you so much, King Khan! Get tickets to tomorrow night’s (6/6/2014) show at Le Poisson Rouge with Red Mass here!

Interview: MØ

May 16 2014

words by @alancholesterol

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One of the flagship artists in a recent wave of Scandinavian pop sensations, Copenhagen’s Karen Marie Ørsted aka has just dropped her thrilling debut No Mythologies to Follow. The record is a milestone in her prolific history of recording, including her teen years as a punk rocker, and a few pivotal collaborations with the likes of Diplo and Aviici that would boost her profile among English speaking audiences.

PopGun first booked MØ for CMJ 2012, and then as direct support for Australia’s Alpine back in March 2013 at Glasslands. Now, just over a year later, she has sold out the same venue as a headliner far in advance of the show. It’s easy to understand why; her vocals are dynamic, easily sliding from forceful to soothing, her keenly selected beats and are intricate yet subtle, and her lyrics bravely render intimate experiences through her feminist worldview and self-deprecating humor. As you can imagine, prepping for a US tour has kept her extremely busy, but she made some time to answer a few questions for us.

I’ve read bios that refer to the “cool/cold” sound that you’re going for, a strong point for a lot of Scandinavian acts. Taking into account that you’re a student of the visual arts, I was wondering if you’ve ever experienced synesthesia, the mixing of senses (“seeing” sounds, “feeling” colors etc).

I haven’t heard of that word before, but I guess I have experienced something like what you describe. The sounds and the visual stuff I make surrounding the music is often something I sense or feel beforehand, or during the creative process. It is sometimes like I’m seeing the sound or feeling it. Of course this is rather abstract, but it does make a lot of sense to me, though I’ve never heard the term for it before.

On the new album, I detect a little thematic progression in the lyrics. Like on track 2, you’ve got, “…all of you find me crazy ’cause I’ve got a black heart,” and by the last track you’re saying, “If you’re in love beneath the pain – what a pleasant sensation.” Were you trying deliberately to tell a story with the lyrics? Were they written in order or just sequenced that way?

The writing is almost in order, but not a hundred percent, and it wasn’t planned. But I guess the sequence and the order I wrote the songs in have something to do with each other on a higher level – I just didn’t realize until the track list was complete. As I’ve said before, the album doesn’t have any conclusion. The lyrics are about being young, restless and lost in life and society, and I don’t have the answer – I don’t preach a mythology to follow – I’m searching myself, and all the lyrics are personal. They are my way of dealing with these questions in my head… These questions that I feel a lot of people are dealing with – at least in the environment I hang out in.

I’m also very interested in your decision to make the title track of the record a bonus track for the deluxe edition. Why did you make that decision?

I like the song “No Mythologies To Follow” which only made it to the deluxe version of the album, but the thing is, when we had to decide the track list I felt this song was less strong than the 12 that made it to the final album. But I’m happy that it’s on the deluxe version, so that it’s out there, ’cause I think the lyrics point out the essence of the title very well, and I like the production.

It is well documented that you were once in a project called MOR, an electro-punk act. In a Noisey article you mentioned moving a way from pop music in your teens. How has the transition back to indie pop been? 

The transition back to pop happened rather naturally. As you mention, I left pop when I entered my teens, listen only to punk and grunge music for a long time, and forming the electro punk band MOR. But when I then started my first solo project back in 2009 as a side project, I could feel the urge for catchy hooks and strong melodies rising within me. But something had changed – it could never again be the ‘all-cheesy’ pop songs I would listen to and strive to write – it would have to have some kind of edge to it if I was to love it, and I still stick to that. Pop is great but it has to have balls.

In the same article, you mentioned interning for one of our very favorite humans, JD Samson. What did you learn from your time with her?

Yeah, that was great – I was interning for JD with my friend and former band mate Josefine in New York 2012 – just before things slowly started to take off with MØ. I was so proud that JD would take us in, and I think we learned a lot about the DIY lifestyle of a musician/artist/cultural political person during our stay. We learned a lot about taking your career in your own hands, and about projecting what you stand for, which is an important lesson.

Thanks so much, Karen! The MØ show at Glasslands with Erik Hassle on May 22nd is sold out, but you can still win tickets here.

LISTEN: This Week’s Artists

By julia |
May 15 2014


5/21 @ Glasslands: Split Single, Desert Sharks, Leapling

5/23 @ Irving Plaza: Maximo Park, Jeffrey Lewis & The Jrams, Eternal Summers

5/23 @ Glasslands: Triptides, Ian Mellencamp, No Ice

5/27 @ Glasslands: Hauschka, Jeffrey Zeigler

5/28 @ Glasslands: Saint Rich, Mon Khmer, Conveyor

6/6 @ Le Poisson Rouge: King Khan & the Shrines, Red Mass